80% of UK online population visited social networking sites in May 09 – including a whole lot of over 55s

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Online research and measurement company comScore just released the findings of a study into UK social networking site usage which provides a good picture of just how mainstream social networking has now become – with an incredible 80% of the total UK online population (aged 15+) apparently having visited at least one social networking site in May 2009.

As you might expect, the most active users are still in the 15-24 age group, with 86% of them visiting social networking sites and spending an average of 4.6 hours on them over the month. However, as the table below shows, 67% of the 55+ segment are also shown as using these sites, for an average of 3.7 hours over the month – confirming the fact that social networking is ‘maturing’ as an online activity (which, as I’ve said many times before, is good for online fundraising).

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The report also provides a popularity ranking of social network sites for the UK, as shown below, with Facebook now by far the dominant site in this category – with pretty well the same unique visitor numbers as the next four sites put together.

Also interesting to see figures for the growth of Twitter – up a phenomenal 3,226% year on year. That’ll be an interesting growth rate to review in 12 months time…

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Don’t let Twitter anxiety cloud your focus on key online priorities

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If you’re feeling lost or left behind in the whirl of hype that has grown-up around the micro-blogging service Twitter over the last few months then don’t worry – you’re not alone.

In the same week that internet traffic monitor Hitwise announced that UK Internet visits to Twitter are up 6-fold since January (making it the 5th most popular social networking site in the UK), analytics firm Webtrends just released results of research confirming that most marketers remain reluctant to use the service.

Based on interviews with 300 online marketing managers across the UK, France, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Australia, Webtrends reports that so far just 2% of businesses have adopted Twitter as a means of communicating with customers. No surprise that email remains far and away the most popular means of engaging with customers online, while 6% are apparently now using blogs and podcasts.

The majority of respondents to the survey said of Twitter that they are simply “not sure how to use it, and even if they could they wouldn’t be sure of what to say, and who exactly they would be saying it to” – which seem to me like very good reasons to hold-off on adding it to their digital marketing mix.

Don’t get me wrong, as I’ve mentioned previously I do believe that Twitter has the potential to be a useful addition to the range of ways charities can engage with certain groups of consumers. However, in the light of another recent research report by website usability expert Jakob Nielsen, highlighting basic shortfalls in charity websites that directly impact on donations received, I also believe that most should have a lot of things higher-up on their digital ‘to do’ list.

My advice would be that you do keep an eye on Twitter, because it’s not going to go away. But don’t worry that you must get out there and start Tweeting immediately – especially if such Twitter anxiety clouds your thinking in terms of what your main online priorities should be.

It’s no use bringing people to your website, through whatever means, if you know that the vast majority don’t engage the way you want them to – with a donation or some other action. So, your first priority must be to optimise your site to ensure that your conversion rates are as good as you can make them. Simple improvements to things like site signposting and the all important donation page itself can make double digit improvements in conversion figures – so that has to be where you start.

And if you don’t actually know your current conversion figures, then you’ve got another top priority action – sorting-out your site analytics and reporting.

When you really understand the basics of what people are doing on your site and you have a plan for improving their experience – and thereby your results – then you can widen your thinking to consider new ways to get people to come to you. First-off, how well are your ‘traditional’ online activities working – email, natural search and online advertising?

Then, once you feel you understand these and have a plan for each, you can safely start to think more widely – into the Web 2.0 world of blogging, micro-blogging, online communities and the like.

Such prioritisation doesn’t necessarily mean a long delaying in thinking about what opportunities Web 2.0 approaches like Twitter might offer you  – but it will help ensure that when you start testing them you’re far more likely to be successful.

As Facebook hits 150m users, Social Networking sites get 1 in 10 UK Christmas Internet visits

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Earlier this week Robin Goad, Research Director at Internet research company Hitwise, released data that revealed a new high in terms of online social media usage in the UK over Christmas. Naturally enough, Christmas is typically the busiest time of year for social networks, but Christmas 2008 saw several new highs which reaffirm (were it needed) the scale of online social networking amongst UK internet users.

According to Hitwise data, visits to Social Networks accounted for over 10% of all UK Internet visits in the week ending 27/12/08 – the first time the company has ever seen them pass the 10% mark. Over the whole of 2008, traffic to those sites classified by Hitwise as Social Networks (top 5 sites being Facebook, YouTube, Bebo, MySpace, and Yahoo Answers) has apparently grown by 20% to make it the fourth most popular category after Entertainment, Search Engines, and Shopping & Classifieds.

Key to breaking the 10% threshold was Facebook, the UK’s most popular Social Networking site, which accounted for 1 in every 22 site visits during Christmas week – making it the second most visited website after Google UK.

Which is perhaps not surprising, given yesterday’s new year blog post by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, announcing that Facebook now has 150 million users world-wide – up by 50 million in just 4 months and spread across 170 countries and territories. And before you discount this vast number on the assumption that most never visit their profile after the initial novely has worn-off, that 150m is apparently ‘active users’ – with almost half of them using Facebook every day.

All in all, a very clear new year message for any fundraisers looking to engage with supporters online who have yet to really take Social Networking seriously. It’s not a fad. It’s a massive opportunity. So add it to your new year resolutions right now!

22% of broadband users expected to be active in virtual worlds within ten years

Here in London we’re experiencing a rare combination of happenings this week – it’s the start of the Wimbledon Tennis Championships AND the sun is shining!

In contrast, this time last year I remember floating about in Second Life visiting IBM’s virtual tennis championships and chatting online to the developers about how they were able to replicate the real world happenings at Wimbledon in Second Life – including the rain.

That same week, The Guardian was promoting SecondFest its three day Second Life virtual music festival and pretty well every other week throughout the summer some new ‘virtual world first’ was being announced – including several from nonprofits.

One year on, when you stop to look back, you realise just how much Second Life hype there was and just how it has died down as the whole subject of virtual worlds has slipped into the Hype Cycle’s Trough of Disillusionment.

However, while not so frequently in the headlines, serious consideration of the commercial potential for virtual worlds has continued. One of the most interesting items I’ve seen on this in recent months is a report released by the consultancy Strategy Analytics, entitled ‘Market Forecasts for Virtual World Experiences – from Habbo Hotel to Second Life and Beyond’

Their market forecast predicts that over the next ten years some 22% of broadband users world-wide will have registered with one or more virtual worlds. In commercial terms, they believe this will equate to a market of some one billion virtual world consumers worth around $8 billion of ‘in-world’ revenue.

While acknowledging that less than 10% of virtual world registrants currently become active users, they expect this to rise to 27% by 2017 as the technology improves and new virtual worlds emerge providing more social and educational applications.

Now, the $8 billion market value does sound like a lot of money (let’s face it – it is a lot of money) but to put it in context this is actually less than the $10.44 billion estimated to have been given online to US charities last year.

Call me a geek, but I remain convinced that we will see virtual worlds becoming an increasingly important online fundraising environment over the next decade. However, these figures do help frame just where they might lie in the future fundraising mix. If the Strategy Analytics valuation turns-out to be accurate then it doesn’t look like virtual worlds will be delivering the lions share of your online income in 2017.

US online giving up 52% in 2007

Last week, Ted Hart released his latest estimate of US online giving figures, showing overall online income to US nonprofits in 2007 as $10.44 billion – up 52% from 2006.

Accurately measuring online giving on a national level is clearly maddeningly difficult. However, this is the seventh annual estimate calculated by Hart, apparently based on “the review of hundreds of first hand reports of giving he receives from charities and review of third-party research projects completed during the time period” . So, assuming the methodology is consistent, this should at least provide a good basis for observing the overall growth trend.

By comparison, according to the Giving USA Foundation’s latest figures just released this Monday, overall US charitable giving in 2007 is estimated at $306.39 billion – up just 3.9% on 2006.

Looking beyond the US, Hart believes the US figures represent slightly more than 50% of world-wide online giving, which he estimates to have now passed $20 billion.

 

Could QR Codes be big for online fundraising?

Over the last few weeks I’ve started to see quite a few little black ‘maze’ icons (like the one above) on advertisements in papers and magazines here in the UK. While they may look like the latest evolution of the Sudoku puzzle craze, they are actually QR Codes (QR = Quick Response) – basically bar codes containing details of a web address, which can be read by your mobile phone (if you have the right software installed). This one is actually the QR Code representation of the home URL for this blog.

You point the camera of your mobile phone at the code and the software translates it into a message and web address and takes you directly to the advertisers website. No waiting to respond until you get to a computer; no searching the phone’s menus for the internet browser; no URL to enter using your tiny phone keypad. If you can scan it, you can go straight to the site. Sounds like a direct response advertisers dream!

Thinking about it from the fundraising perspective, right now my daily papers are carrying a range of different ads requesting donations in support of either the Burma Cyclone or China Earthquake emergency appeals. In most cases the response options offered are threefold: a traditional coupon, a credit card donation line (not always 24hr), and a URL. It’s pretty easy to see how in the future a QR Code, taking the reader direct to a mobile web donation page could streamline online response to such emergency ads. Read, scan, click, donation made – nice!

Over recent years there’s been a whole lot of discussion about the exciting future of the mobile internet, so the big question is just when we might start to see QR Codes being used in this way by fundraisers?

I first heard of QR Codes from one of our other planners at WWAV Rapp Collins, who had seen them all over the place during a trip to Japan back in August 2007 and predicted that we’d see them all over the place here in the near future. Sure enough, in early December 2007 the UK’s highest circulation daily paper The Sun devoted several pages to explaining and promoting QR codes – presumably hoping to get ahead of the curve in offering this extra response option to its advertisers. By the end of the following month the paper was reporting that its new service was a ‘hit’, with some 11,000 users, and announced intentions to continue to promote the approach.

While UK advertisers are clearly starting to test the approach, not only in The Sun but in listings magazines like Time Out, it’s still early days – but the potential for this type of response mechanic seems obvious. The fundamental barrier to its adoption on a mass scale is simply the need to download the QR Code software. This is freely available from i-nigma, whose smartcode reader is one of the most widely used (you can also create your own smartcodes on their website). But the truth is that most mobile phone users probably wouldn’t know where to start when considering downloading extra software to their phone, so adoption based on this is likely to be slow and gradual.

However, all that we need is for the major handset manufacturers to start shipping phones with smartcode reader software pre-installed and this could go mass pretty quickly. We can be sure that commercial advertisers will leap on the opportunity as soon as it starts to scale-up- and switched-on fundraisers shouldn’t be far behind.